‘National roaming' proposal to give UK phone users access to all networks

Phone users in large cities and towns tend to be spoilt for choice when it comes to mobile network coverage, as carriers blanket these densely populated areas with their cell towers. But venture further away into areas where people are outnumbered by cows and sheep, and it’s quite a different story.

The challenge of bringing coverage to rural areas is one that operators have faced for many years, but as smartphone usage and mobile computing continue to grow, there is an increasing need to ensure that those who live in such parts of the world are not left behind. With this in mind, a new ‘national roaming’ scheme has been proposed by the government in the United Kingdom.

As BBC News reports, Culture Secretary Sajid Javid has said that operators in the UK should allow customers to switch to alternative networks in areas where they cannot get a signal via their own carrier.

In some parts of the UK, as in other countries, only one or two networks have installed cell towers and masts, leaving those on other carriers out of luck. Under the national roaming scheme, users would have the freedom to access any available network, in much the same way they would when roaming internationally.

Unsurprisingly, network operators aren’t keen on the idea, saying that it would give them little incentive to invest in expanding their own networks to improve coverage. One mobile industry source told the BBC that, under existing legislation, the government may nonetheless be able to force carriers to implement the proposal.

A spokesperson for Three said that the company “supports the principle of expanding coverage to address areas less well served”, adding that “discussions with government” were ongoing regarding the best ways to make that happen. 

Source: BBC News | Transmitter image via Shutterstock

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20 Comments

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They should enforce this. If they network operators don't comply then they should loose their government subsidies or be forced to pay some actual tax. Also there is a serious safety concern here. If you are in an accident or break down in a rural area you either have a long walk or have to wait for someone else to come by to help you, with no mobile coverage you're stuffed. Again mobile operators thinking of profit first. The government should force these f***ers to do the right thing.

If you break down then I suppose you are screwed, but if you are in an accident, you can ring an emergency number regardless of the network, it will connect to any network available :)

As someone commented on the BBC site, why the government doesn't own the infrastructure and rent it back to the mobile operators, I don't know.

Yes the government will have to pay for upkeep, but that will be what the rent is for.

I don't see how this is a big deal for the operators to sort out. Just ring Australia and see what our operators do to get rural access to around 98% of the population.

Telstra built a ridiculously big network. And Optus and Vodafone roam with each other in rural areas now.

Carriers for a start should share towers.
The infra-estructure should also be a shared agreement and investment.
Some towers here in Portugal are shared (although for example, the tower belongs to Optimus or Vodafone, there are other carrier antennas there). This would also reduce the need of having a one-tower-per-carrier installed in areas, which is just silly.

Hopefully. I move between two houses spending approx 50/50 in each and one house only gets signal with EE/Orange, the other only gets signal with O2. Anything that can get me coverage in both without having to use multiple sims would be great.

Little incentive to expand their network coverage? If they want people in areas where they do not have coverage to use their service then that's as good of an incentive as any.

Couldn't come soon enough. I was happily with my network operator for over ten years and then i moved to an area where only one operator had any chance of signal and that was only because they're running a femto-cell trial in the village. This means that only 8 people in the whole village can be connected.

My provider however, does not have any signal so i have to use a home signal box which is pretty inadequate.

networks can just charge other networks a fee to use their network, simple. This would give all networks the same coverage. 4G speeds are fast enough, you can get 30Mbps real-world speeds in London which is the same as virgin's 30mb tier broadband.

anothercookie said,
only 30? I get 70 here in 'Murica on 4G

Is that real world speed on a network speed site like speedtest.net? Lots of uk companies claim far higher speeds than people actually get.

article
Unsurprisingly, network operators aren't keen on the idea, saying that it would give them little incentive to invest in expanding their own networks to improve coverage. One mobile industry source told the BBC that, under existing legislation, the government may nonetheless be able to force carriers to implement the proposal.

Exactly this, network operators will stop investing in areas where other already have masts, that will cause them masts to become overcrowded and cause major problems.

If the government decide to enforce this, watch what happens to the prices of everything. We will be punished for the government enforcing a silly rule :(

I suppose that could work and then Network operators can no longer claim they have the best coverage and we all profit.

I can just see prices rising because of the "extra costs" that will be made up by the operators :p

But if that comes in, why would a network even try to expand their hardware since, after this, all they have to do is make larger and high-speed plans and ask users to use the rivals network :p

Because it would then make sense for operators to have a deal in place where rival networks contribute to expansion (or heavy usage) of those towers.

I truly believe that phone and cable (tv) operators are dinosaurs who milk the consumer and resist new technologies until it's really demanded while making mad profit, but I also don't believe that one company should benefit over another while doing even less.

I'm pretty sure that there are already carriers who have tower use agreements, In The Netherlands alone you can get supermarket branded PAYG as well as MTV and other brand names that certainly do not have their own towers.

Carriers aren't being chased by the EU and their respective governments for being kind to their subscribers are they? :p They have been seriously regulated in the past few years due to overpricing/unfair contracts and roaming charges etc etc.

Bad example to use NL, most of those virtual carriers are just KPN. Just different implementations.
AH Mobiel is just KPN with the AH logo slapped on to it. MTV was Vodafone's or T-Mobile with the MTV logo on it. They are not even close to the true telco's in any sense like KPN, T-mobile or Vodafone are. MTV and AH are just simple collaberations with MTV and the AH and telco's to catch the people who want cheap low priority contracts.
Don't forget the low priority :) its a major issue. Often they also use % of the towers to lower the costs.

See also Simyo and Hollandsnieuwe... none of the virtual ones are a telco different then the 3 major ones we have.

Yeah, same deal as GifGaf and Tesco in the UK, they use O2's network, they're called MNVO's (Mobile virtual network operator)
best way I can see this working is to have each operator contribute funds into a pot based of the number of customers they have, and then that money is collectively used to fund network upgrades across the whole country.
The only worry is that it turn into something similar to how UK broadband works with BT running the whole show and all the other providers just using their network (minus Virgin)